Cigarette packaging: Ministers launch fresh review


Dr Peter Mackereth said brightly-coloured cigarette packaging was a form of ''silent advertising'' for smoking

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The government has announced an independent review of cigarette packaging in England, amid calls for action to discourage young smokers.

David Cameron appeared to distance himself from uniform packaging in July, saying further evidence was needed to show whether it would be effective.

But Public Health Minister Jane Ellison said it was now time to "examine the emerging evidence" on a policy shift.

Labour said immediate action was needed, "not another review".

In a Commons statement, Ms Ellison said standardised tobacco packaging would be brought in after the review if "we are satisfied that there are sufficient grounds to proceed, including public health benefit".

The review, led by paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler, is set to focus on a pilot scheme in Australia, which became the first country to legislate for standardised packaging in 2011.

It is not really surprising that the government is looking again at the issue of plain packaging for cigarettes.

Out of the two high profile public health measures it championed after the election - minimum alcohol pricing was the other - plain packaging always seemed the more natural fit.

Over the years tougher and tougher measures have been introduced to discourage smoking from bans in public places to forcing shops to sell tobacco products under the counter.

So what has changed? Australia still remains the only country in the world to have introduced unbranded packaging.

But early evidence suggests it was effective.

A study in the state of Victoria found that, not only did it make smokers more likely to think about quitting, it also worked subconsciously - smokers felt the cigarettes were of poorer quality.

For Labour, shadow public health minister Luciana Berger demanded to know why the government was delaying the introduction of plain packaging "still further" having already held a consultation on the issue in 2012.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband added: "The government should have introduced plain packaging earlier this year - we want them to act swiftly, we want them to act now. We don't need another review.

"Every major public health expert agrees this would help the battle against cancer, against young people taking up smoking."

The government has never officially ruled out changes to cigarette packaging laws, but BBC political editor Nick Robinson said that private briefings from Downing Street had previously suggested the idea was "dead".

He said ministers were likely to have been defeated on Lords amendments to the Children and Families Bill, which enjoyed cross-party support, and would have given the government the power to regulate cigarette packaging.

Ms Ellison confirmed that the government would table its own amendment to the legislation, giving ministers the power to introduce regulations "quickly" when Sir Cyril's review is complete in March 2014 - if they decide to proceed with the policy.

'Rise in counterfeiting'

She rejected suggestions the rethink had been prompted by fears of defeat in the Lords, saying: "It's a year this weekend since the legislation was introduced in Australia. It's the right time to ask people to look at this.

"This is fundamentally about children's health. Two thirds of people start smoking when they're children and it's one of the most important public health issues we face in this country."

"This is what cigarette packets have looked like in Australia since last year", reports Ross Hawkins

A study conducted in Australia found that smokers using standardised plain brown packets were 81% more likely to consider quitting.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the government had an "open mind" on the review, and "personally" he hoped it would show that plain packaging was effective.

But UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall accused Mr Cameron of "scandalously auctioning off the freedom and liberty of the British people for his own political ends, cheered on by the Labour Party".

Branded cigarette packs help smokers avoid buying counterfeit products, suggests cigar-smoking Tory MP Robert Halfon

Cigarette firm British American Tobacco (BAT), which owns brands including Benson & Hedges and Dunhill, said the Australian experiment had "failed" to achieve its public health objectives.

"The evidence shows that the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco products has coincided with an increase in illicit trade," leading to increased profits for "criminals selling black-market tobacco", it argued.

Why olive-coloured packaging?

In a 2011 debate in the Australian parliament, Labor Party MP Mike Symon explained that the proposed plain-packaging legislation would "mandate that the brand name is in a standard colour, position, font size and style and that the packaging will be a standard drab dark brown or olive colour".

"Consumers tend to perceive white and lighter colours as being healthier," he continued.

"Research shows that adults and adolescents in scientifically controlled studies perceive cigarettes in plain packs to be less appealing, less palatable, less satisfying and of lower quality compared to cigarettes in current packaging."

Labour has sought to link Conservative election chief Lynton Crosby's work as a consultant for the tobacco industry to delays in the policy, a claim which was rejected by David Cameron at the time the issue was put on hold in July.

The ban on images on packaging came into force in Australia on 1 January after a long-running legal battle between the former Labor government and the tobacco industry.

Manufacturers claimed the law was unconstitutional and infringed on their intellectual property rights by banning the use of brands and trademarks.

But they said they would comply after the legality of the measure was upheld by the country's highest court.

Cancer Research UK said a move to plain packaging would "save thousands of lives".

"Stopping cigarettes being marketed to children as a glamorous and desirable accessory is one of the greatest gifts we can give the next generation," it added.

More than 450 doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals have signed an open letter saying they also "welcome" the move.

"Cigarette packs are now the key marketing tool employed by the tobacco industry to attract and retain customers," they wrote.

"There is no time to lose and Parliament must act now to protect children from the marketing tactics of the tobacco industry."

The Scottish government has said it is "still committed" to introducing standardised packaging, while New Zealand is also considering the move.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1414.

    6 Hours ago

    548. sexyfurrytigre
    all these comments from the anti-smoking brigade about passive smoking...well what did you think happens when you walk along the pavement near traffic?

    Well I think I dont like breathing in car fumes either, but people dont have much choice in having to go to work and earn a living.


    No you don`t but you have the choice in how you get there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1413.

    There are far , far, more important things for Government to concern themselves with!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1412.

    @1397 "What about the liberty and freedom of non-smokers who want to live in a smoke free environment?"

    I probably encounter less than 30 seconds of smoke in a week. As there over 10,0000 minutes a week, I spend less than 1/20,000 of my week exposed to secondary smoke. I could even spend that entire time holding my breath.
    Your "liberty of non-smokers" is totally overstated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1411.

    I do not think plain packets will stop youngsters trying smoking and it will not stop established smokers. The young know the risks but still choose smoke! Street drugs come in plain packets and they are also popular with the young. If you want to stop smoking double the tax every year and restrict the number of shops selling tobacco but that might cost you votes!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1410.

    UK's the most repressive in Europe on drugs, sex, nudity & the most top heavy control on schools.
    It's counter-productive.
    We've a lot more problems in these areas.
    I'm no fan of passive smoking, I like smoke-free trains etc. but we've done enough.
    Funny we seem to have about the least controls in EU on politicians, bankers, media where they would so obviously be needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1409.

    surprising we can fund highly paid researchers to do a review on what a fag packet looks like but not on things that really matter. People are either smoking what's in the packets or are attracted by the fact of seeing a fag in somebodys mouth not by the packet in someones pocket. Sheesh, have they not got something better to do!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1408.

    993.CURTAINS 2012

    "non-smokers contribute 4 times as much to society as smokers do."

    Do you know the %age of MPs who don't smoke? It could easily undo all the good work that the 80% of societies non-smokers do, making the net contibution of all non-smokers ultimately detrimental!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1407.

    This is "hidden" news and far more important - so it was hidden like future cigs in a plain wrapper, under USA news.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1406.

    What is this tosh all about ? This will have no impact on stopping smoking !! Let's take labels off booze that may be interesting ! And toilet rolls , food , let's go back in the caves the government is driving us all barmy !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1405.

    As an NHS patient I would like to thank the large numbers of smokers that paid premium taxes on tobacco products to fund the NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1404.

    RE: #1383. @Tio Terry

    A quote from the WHO article you provided the link for:

    "However, tobacco control experts in Australia are quite enthusiastic about early anecdotal indications that plain packaging may be having an effect."

    Early... anecdotal... indications... may be... having an effect

    That translates from politicalese as a most emphatic "that stuff does not work at all!" :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1403.

    All the boffins say that smoking is bad for you - okay I agree, however, how is the govenment going to plug the shortfall in their books when taxes from the sale of cigarettes & tobacco is reduced. Personally, I do not believe that packaging cigarettes in plain packaging will stop people from smoking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1402.

    Packets should be marked "Smoking Kills - Only Idiots Smoke"

  • rate this

    Comment number 1401.

    Making cigarettes 'forbidden' is just as likely to make them
    more attractive to teenagers not less.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1400.

    I don't think that trying to discourage kids from smoking is "nanny state" neither is restricting the places where smokers can pollute the breathing space of non smokers.

    Trying to ban it would be stupid but that's a separate issue.

    The anti nanny state lobby is often a thought free zone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1399.

    Smokers always say they are exercising their right to choose. I say that I want to exercise my right not to pay to treat their self-inflicted, smoking-related illnesses.

    We should not treat smoking-related illnesses on the NHS. They should only be treated in the private healthcare sector. No insurance company would offer cover, so smokers would have to pay cash. The true cost of smoking!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1398.

    @1389 fair enough.

    On a recent trip around the Greek islands I wandered outside the vessel for some fresh air.

    Was forced back inside due to all the smokers who were apparently also enjoying the fresh air, which they were polluting.

    You seem to forget that I am also entitled to my liberty and freedom that you so desire, which includes the freedom from inhaling your cigarette smoke.

  • Comment number 1397.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1396.

    1382 you may not believe BAT but why should you believe the antis? I was told by a very well known epidemiologist that epidemiology was too blunt to show a risk from passive smoking. The next week he was signatory to letter in a National paper stating that epidemiology had confirmed the risk! You work it out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1395.

    Agree with Labour on this one.

    We have 'faffed' long enough on this issue, plain packaging and out of sight please, and make sure they do it well away from everyone else. If someone wants to kill themselves and stink like an old ashtray after that and all the education then that's their business, just don't expect much sympathy.


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